As the classic soul song “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” plays over the opening credits of The Lincoln Lawyer, the perfect tone is set for the movie. At its core, it’s a classical lawyer procedural thriller, but is smoothly played by its star and large cast so much so that you can’t help but be entertained for two hours.
It’s a movie where the title explains it all. Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey, looking little older, but still with some breezy cool swagger) is a high profiled LA defense lawyer who works out of his Lincoln Town Car. As he wheels and deals throughout the day with his driver Earl (Laurence Mason), we meet the various lawyers, bail bonds men, private investigators, celebrity drug addicts, and gang members that he works with. Some of them love him, but most have some sort of card to play with him.
The latest case Mickey takes on involves an attempted rape allegedly perpetrated by Beverly Hills elite Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a character that is a chip off the Bret Easton Ellis block of wealthy sociopaths. Mickey at first believes in Louis’s innocence but that begins to fade as a previous case involving the murder of a prostitute and conviction of a friend named Jesus Martinez (Michael Pena, again being the angelic crybaby) points back to Louis. This twist comes quite earlier in the movie, creating a strong dramatic dynamic that doesn’t hold onto a last minute twist thread.
As his lawyer, Mickey can’t drop the case, but through a series of blackmail and cross examinations he tries to be one step above/ahead of Louis. The cat and mouse games that McConaughey and Phillippe play off one another consist of a series of hushed side conversations and quick glances that add a strong tension to the paperback story.
McConaughey using his Time to Kill skills to pull strings during litigation and cross examination is at the heart of the movie’s dramatic goods. In a scene featuring McConaughey cross examining the victim played by Margarita Levieva (Lisa P from Adventureland), the actors add a side of sadness in a scene that could have been played like most exploitative legal thriller scenes. He knows she is telling the truth about the attack, yet he has to prove to the jury that she is lying.
Another scene involving a jail house snitch named Corliss (played by Shea Whigham from Boardwalk Empire) is the most hilarious, standout scene of the movie. Corliss reeks of such sleaze and meth vapors that Whigham gets to chew up the screen, making you wonder why he isn’t playing more movie heavies these days.
The script by John Romano as a whole feels like a pilot for an upcoming lawyer show, but the opening credits boasts a cast list full of well known talents like Marisa Tomei, John Leguizamo, William H. Macy, and Brian Cranston. The disappointment here is that they are given merely spare plot parts that seem more like cameos or characters from different stories altogether. Tomei and McConaughey’s on and off relationship is from another story, Leguizamo and Cranston pop up say a few lines to antagonize McConaughey then just disappear. It makes you wonder what all of these award winning actors saw in this legal thriller script.
The success is that the film’s runtime of two hours goes by without a look at the wristwatch or an uncomfortable shift in the movie theater seat. The charisma of McConaughey goes a long way, and the plot twists come in at convenient times instead of as last minute punches.
The Upside: McConaughey is solid and makes you forget about his performance in Surfer, Dude and/or all those bad Kate Hudson pairings. Shia Whigham almost steals the show.
The Downside: If you give the movie any thought, it’s your typical legal thriller and a lot of the cast have nothing really to do with the plot or story.
On the Side: Supposed to take place in the same world as Clint Eastwood’s Blood Work.